Released 11/18/2016 Rated: PG-13
The difficult thing about this franchise is that we’re coming off of Harry Potter, a series well established before the films even made it to the screen. With Fantastic Beasts all we’re getting is the screenplay around the time of the film’s release. The majority of people are going in blind as opposed to only some when it came to Potter. These films are an expansion on the Wizarding World, which I was excited for, but being set before Potter’s time, I don’t feel it’s focusing on the correct things. When done well this film should establish how this world works and how it’s different from what we, the audience, already know. Instead it seems to try to set up what’s going on but only by way of what’s happening to Newt…who’s trying to stay out of it.
Harry Potter had a set story; therefore, a flow to the narrative. We followed Harry and his friends through whatever was happening at school that year, but we mostly stuck with Harry throughout all eight films. You could follow it even if you were new to the franchise. To me, Fantastic Beasts doesn’t feel as though it has a straight narrative. First of all, we’re not just following Newt, we’re following Credence and Graves and Tina as well. And all these subplots are entwined with one another which muddles things a bit. Newt doesn’t even get to do what he set out to do in America, which is study magical creatures. Instead he gets dragged around New York whether trying to collect his creatures that accidentally got loose, or running from the Magical Congress who thinks he’s in line with Grindelwald.
Newt is awesome. He’s the kind of protagonist Hollywood needs more of. He’s not overtly masculine or adventurous. He has a job to do, knows how to do it, and gets it done. He’s friendly and quiet and passionate about what he does. He knows not only what each creature needs, but how to best handle each of their personalities. Watching Newt interact with both the niffler and the bowtruckle throughout the film is a perfect example. And when he implores the Magical Congress not to hurt his animals it just breaks my heart. It’s the potential threat to the creatures in his care that cracks his emotional shell he’s so safely snug into. The man’s clearly an introvert. I think it’s great that he kind of handles Jacob the same way as one of his creatures at first. It’s their friendship that makes this movie great. Newt and Jacob are my favorite part. And Jacob is a great intermediary between the audience and this magical world. Him bursting into short giggles at the absurdity of the things he’s seeing is infectious.
My initial reaction as I walked out of the theater was that Fantastic Beasts is definitely more mellow than the Potter series. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But there’s a bit of an adjustment needed after coming off of what to expect with Harry Potter, yet it’s appropriate for a series focused on Newt. I hope they keep it this way.